Ah, the holidays. It can be the most joyful—and sometimes the most stressful—time of the year.
For many of us, the holiday season means a busy social calendar, long shopping lists, and extra travel to be close to loved ones for every occasion. You may already have a budget for gift-giving, but travel expenses can also stack up quickly, especially when you’re traversing the country to attend each celebration.
But holiday travel doesn’t have to be a drain on your bank account. Follow these tips, and you could save money as you move from one holiday event to the next.
Make it a road trip.
In general, driving is cheaper than flying. If your destination is close enough that you can get there by car, you could easily save hundreds of dollars on airline tickets. Find additional savings by carpooling with friends and family and splitting up the cost of gas (and the rental car, if you use one).
Book flights strategically.
If you choose to fly, don’t procrastinate when it comes to booking your flight. Experts agree that it’s wise to start keeping an eye on flight prices sooner rather than later. If you wait to book until a few weeks before Thanksgiving or Christmas, you could get stuck paying exorbitant prices. On the other hand, you could get lucky and score a last-minute deal—but it’s a gamble. If you know your holiday plans a few months in advance, booking early is generally a safer bet.
To save even more on flights, AAA suggests avoiding peak travel days. If you don’t mind spending time in the airport on a holiday, you could find cheaper flights on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.
Flying on Dec. 26, on the other hand, comes at a cost—it’s the most expensive day to fly during the week of Christmas, according to AAA.
Cash in on points and loyalty programs.
Being loyal to your favorite brands can pay off, especially when that loyalty earns you a free hotel stay or flight. Check your hotel and airline accounts to see if you have enough unused rewards to qualify for any freebies. Even small wins, like one free night of a four-night hotel stay, can add up to serious savings over time.